I’m in Jackson, Mississippi this weekend. I went to a crawfish boil with friends of a friend. After a few beers and a few hours of laughing with these people I’ve never met before, I had a thought.
There is so much fun to be had in odd places with new people. We forget that. We go through our lives doing the same thing, seeing the same people, and going to the same bars even though there’s so much out there. So, so much.
Complacency is simple. “Just happy enough” is a plague-ridden safety blanket. We need to keep jumping at new experiences and putting ourselves out there to fail because that enemy known as “routine” is always nipping at our heels. Routine is the voice in the back of your head saying “you might fail” and “but you don’t have any idea what will happen next.” It’s telling you that “it’s gonna be awkward” and “it’ll never work out.”
New is your ally. Different is your partner-in-crime. Strange is your bedfellow. We need to start telling ourselves to fail. To be unsure. To put yourself out there. Feel fear. Get dirty. Fuck up. Move forward.
Maybe all it takes is a Mississippi Crawfish Boil with two strangers you’ll probably never see again to jolt you awake. Maybe that’s a life-altering moment waiting to happen. You never know until you give it a shot.
I wrote this late last year, as a piece of fiction for NaNoWriMo in November. Reread it tonight, thought it was interesting and still sorta true.
“And I just don’t think you’re looking in the right place,” she told me, trying to avoid eye contact. “I mean, I don’t know what you think you’re going to find at last call.”
“Why do I have to be looking for something?” I said, defensively.
“I just know that you could find something else out there, you know, outside of the rail drinks and barstools. I want you to be that person.”
I didn’t know where any of this was coming from. She always seemed happy enough to share an appetizer and a few drinks, and it was only a few weeks ago that she’d be right out there every night with me. Maybe we grew apart. Maybe she grew up and I didn’t.
“You know how much I just want to feel happy sitting around at night, watching a bad movie with my girlfriend and getting to sleep by midnight? Waking up before 9, going for a run and making her breakfast while she sleeps in? That set of moments is all I fucking want, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Believe me, I’ve looked, but I can’t find it.”
“I believe you, I really do. But you’re just not really trying, because you’re not willing to be bored. You know what all of what you just described is? It’s just desired boredom. You’re still afraid of feeling happy being bored.”
Then it hit me. The worst part was that I knew she was right. I realized that all of my life, I had been trying to get away from boredom. Avoiding boredom was the one true challenge, the one impossible goal. Sometimes you have to be bouncing around, from person to person and place to place to hide from it. Sometimes you have to be alone to never be bored, but maybe you have to be bored to never be alone.
“I’ll get there,” I told her, unsure of if it could actually be true or not.
I got a text from Sarah, who asked if I was going out tonight. Saved by the phone, I thought. Sarah was one of my best friends, someone who understood me as much I think anyone ever could. She was brash and honest, yet kind. In an alternate universe, we would be a happy couple.
I finished my coffee with Emily and went out to meet Sarah. There was a beer with my name on it when I arrived, and Sarah’s sympathetic blue eyes stood out in the dark bar. I told her the whole story, and I ordered the next round.
“Look, you know I’m not exactly on the best terms with her, but I think she was completely overreacting like she always does.” Sarah and Emily had always been at odds with each other. I think they only tolerated each other because I was a mutual friend. Sarah was more like me, shy and reserved at first, a little guarded, a little bitter. Emily was more of an optimist, a friendly beauty who saw the best in people. Her sweetness interested me, while Sarah’s jaded view of the world drew the two of us together.
“I mean, I think she was overreacting too, but she made some good points and I have no choice but to listen to her. Do you think that being bored is really that necessary?”
“No I don’t, but I’m like you.” I wasn’t sure which part of me she was describing, but I took it as a compliment. “Look, there are people in this world that don’t understand why we do what we do. They don’t feel restless, they don’t feel bored, and they’re very happy being complacent. That’s fine. That works for them, this works for us. We’re just two separate types of people, and we’ll never see eye to eye.”
It seems like some of us are just born to be boredom-averse. Blame it on the bad chemicals in our brains, or the electricity in our veins, but we just can’t feel okay sitting still. And we’ll keep running around, bar to bar, place to place, person to person until we get rid of every iota of boredom in our bodies.
If there’s one thing you should remember about heading to a college bar after you’re a graduate, it’s this: you never come out of it thinking that it was a great idea. This was especially true of O’Grady’s, a bar notorious for its dark interior and its strong drinks. O’Grady’s gave out Dum-Dum suckers to help quell the sting of rail vodka. As far as student bars go, it was a pretty great place to acquire a blackout. Somewhere in the swirl of the night, we expected to find solace.
On any given weekend night, I could spot 6 or 7 coworkers at the bar; O’Grady’s is never the kind of place you want your colleagues to see you, but there we all were, hoping the other wouldn’t remember an awkward encounter the next morning.
The bar was near and it didn’t have a line (a rarity after midnight), so we went in. O’Grady’s was full of a student populace we were no longer a part of: underagers, drunken slobs, stressed-out overachievers and proud Greeks. The bartenders, trained to be flirty for tips, tried their very best to keep the booze flowing and the conversations light. I looked around and saw a few guys whispering sweet lines into the ears of strangers, girls twirling and dancing to the music, wallflowers eyeing up people they would muster up the courage to talk to, and groups of friends sitting around the tables telling inside jokes. A normal night.
Nostalgia hits you in weird places when you’re at an old haunt: the bartender’s smile, that dartboard you lost game after game at, the conversations you had with strangers. Ghosts come in all shapes and sizes, rushing by in waves of hazy memories and forgotten conversations. We’ve seen too many familiar faces fade away into adulthood, off in some bigger city chasing larger dreams. Those of us who stayed still float around the city, searching for specters of the olden days, haunted by the people and places of our past.
It was after about one-and-a-half whiskey sodas that things started to get hazy. It was time to move on.
Whiskey has a way of making you stronger and weaker at the same time. This is never more apparent than when you’re having a one on one conversation with a pretty girl at a dark bar. During the good times, whiskey raises you up, pats you on the back for your accomplishments, and whispers in your ear that there’s nobody better or smarter or funnier or more attractive than you. Nobody is more capable than a man with a whiskey buzz.
During the bad times, whiskey kicks you down, laughs at you, and dares you to swim deeper and deeper into it until you get to the bottom. Whiskey makes you overthink. It makes you regret. It makes your failures float to the top of your consciousness, your anger surface.
Whiskey will inevitably make you say a lot of things. It may get her to smile. You’ll almost always make her laugh, either with you or at you. Whiskey will make you brave enough to share secrets with her, and if you’re lucky maybe she’ll tell you some of her own. You may think you’re having a profound moment, a pivot point in your life; you may see visions of the near future, her hand in yours and a smile on your face. But then you’ll leave. She’ll go one way, you’ll go another. The whiskey will turn back into a mean friend, the one that tells you it can’t believe you’re going home alone again, the one that can’t believe you actually thought you had a chance with her.
But then whiskey tucks you in and swiftly lulls you to sleep. The next morning, whiskey might kick your ass, but whiskey is never boring. At least you and it had a few adventures together, right?
[more NaNoWriMo short fiction]
The winter fills the world with a cold monochrome landscape, dead trees and a frozen ground. The vibrant greens and blues of summer are replaced by the differing shades of grey. The emotions are rawer, the lows a bit lower. I think it’s the never-breaking monotony of the day during the winter that makes me feel this way; when I leave for work it’s dark, and when I leave again to go home it’s already dark. My friends are less apt to do anything; human hibernation is prevalent in the winter, and things like DVR and Netflix only make it more appealing.
But the good parts of winter are out there, buried in the dark, deep in the snow. The early season snowfalls, which for a while are beautiful, are like watching a scene out of a movie where the sensitive-yet-snarky protagonist walks down a neon-lit street where the snow is only slightly less fluffy than the hat of the girl holding onto his arm. Snow feels comfortable and calm before it feels cold and constricting.
Before the Holidays are over, everyone is happier, more cheerful, more open to connection. Snow and Christmastime are things that turn everyone back into a kid, if only for a while. Christmastime is something that must be experienced in the Midwest, or in New York, or anywhere with a measurable amount of snow and a cold bite in the air.
It was one of those snowy December nights I was oddly fond of, when it wasn’t blisteringly cold out and when the bitter winds didn’t blow, but when the big snowflakes were falling hard.
It was well past closing time, so we couldn’t stay in the bar. She lived close. She fed me a line about how I could sleep on her couch, but she was getting up early in the morning so I might as well just head home. I gave her a hug and started walking down the street. And another night alone, I thought. I was ready to spend the walk home analyzing the night, figuring out where I went wrong, and deciding if I actually really had a chance with her. I get lost in my mind sometimes, and a cold snowy night coupled with a few adult beverages always gets the introspection going.
A few seconds later, she yelled my name, and I turned around. I don’t remember what she said, but I’ll always remember that moment. There she was, out in the middle of the street, with heavy snow all around us and neon lights cutting through the dark night, waving goodbye. Maybe it was the whiskey, or maybe it was just the night playing tricks on me, but it felt like that moment lasted for ten minutes. It was like something out of a painting or a movie. It was beautiful.
And so I walked home with a glimmer of hope in my head, the kind of hope that grows in your brain with every conversation you have with Her, the kind that keeps you interested. The kind of hope that makes you think winter isn’t so bad.
The one thing you learn growing up in areas with cold, cold winters is that it will end. It may be months of frigid temperatures and moods, but it leaves, it’s replaced with the brighter days and your mood will thaw with the warmer temperatures
When I was a kid, I spent many fall weekends hunting with my dad in northern Minnesota. Minnesota gets god-awful cold in the winter and can be one giant, mosquito-filled-and-humid pain-in-the-ass in the summer, but to me there’s nothing more Edenic than a Minnesota autumn.
Whenever I think I’ve had enough of my job or I get momentarily sick of the city and sick of my life, I dream of disappearing to a cabin in the woods for a little while. I don’t know what exactly draws me to the woods, but I imagine it’s a combination of nostalgia from my childhood and every sensory experience that goes along with a stroll in the woods on a crisp autumn day.
I’m a product of the Midwest, and I can’t think of anything more serene than the sound of silence but for the swaying of the trees and the lake’s waves rhythmically hitting the coastline. I can’t think of anything more gratifying than the crisp crunch of the dead leaves on the ground, and I can’t think of anything more naturally beautiful than the bright yellows, oranges, greens and browns of the dying trees.
There’s something endlessly reassuring about seeing the world the way your ancestors saw it. They could have walked through the same trails hundreds of years ago and the feeling would have been exactly the same. There are very few places left in this world where that timelessness is even possible. It gives me hope that the world will still be here long after I’m gone; the world belongs to nature, and we’re all just on borrowed time.
I know that this is beauty is on a very short timeline, and the crispness of fall will give in to the numbing winter winds in a matter of days or weeks. Maybe the world gets the most beautiful right before it hibernates for the winter. Maybe we need that huge dose of natural peace so we don’t forget about it during the cold, dark and grey winter nights.
It goes beyond the time outside. The simplicity of cabin life is something I’ll always long for. If you need wood, you chop it. If you need to get warmer, you find a blanket, make some coffee, and throw another log on the stove. Everything is cause and effect, want and action, with no complications or setbacks. I could imagine spending a week out there with just a dog or a girlfriend, a stack of books for reading or a pen and paper for writing, a nice supply of coffee and/or whiskey for drinking, and a solid appreciation for the complete lack of complexity and bureaucracy.
And so every now and then, my mind drifts north and I long to forget about the life I lead in the city. After a refresh in the woods, I’d be ready to go back to the city, back to the confusion, and back to the wild complexity a modern twentysomething’s life brings.
Whiskey fills your head with delusions of grandeur and just enough emotional fortification to convince you to act on those delusions. You may be clever, but with whiskey you’re Whiskey Clever. You may be funny, but with whiskey you’re Whiskey Funny. You may be pretty, but with whiskey you’re the sort of nonchalant sexy that you won’t realize you were pulling off until someone points it out. Whiskey will inevitably, at some point, make you want to punch someone in the face.
On those occasions when it seems whiskey may be in order, you’re probably not wrong.
All of this.
I almost finished rereading The Great Gatsby on the plane ride home from Florida this week. It’s one of my favorite books, and something I’ll continue to revisit every now and then. I don’t think I’ve read it since high school.
Instead of thinking about it from the perspective of a student, I now see it like a writer. I focus on the sentences, the paragraphs, the way he makes everything come alive with words. This book is filled to the brim with quotes I wish I wrote.
There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired
Reading this book makes me want to quit writing altogether (because I could never ever string words together in such a beautiful way) or quit my job, move to New York and focus solely on writing.
People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.
The way Fitzgerald looks at life in this book is strikingly similar to how I see things: there’s a distinct feeling of excitement in this book, of every moment being precious and every scene a promising opportunity for an adventure or a story. There’s also a feeling of exhausted melancholy just beneath the surface.
I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
It is a book that, at its core, is about trying to escape your past, running away from where you’re from and starting over. It’s about unrequited love and regretting the choices you’ve made. It’s about chasing something you lost somewhere that you won’t ever find again. And then the book ends, and Fitzgerald closes the book with one of the most beautiful, hopeful sentences I think I’ve ever read:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past